Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit: Chapter V - Accountability and control: Legislative, Executive and Judicial control over administration

Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit (Paper - I)

Chapter V - Accountability and control: Legislative, Executive and Judicial control over administration


The need for effective control over administration is, thus, obvious. Public opinion, professional standards and ethics, and the nature of the society-all influence administration in varying ways and capacities and exercise control over it. A study of this problem may, however, be made here under the following major heads:

  1. Legislative Control.
  2. Executive Control.
  3. Judicial Control.

1. Legislative Control

In India, the tools of legislative control are: Questions, Resolutions, Zero Hour Discussion, Adjournment Motions, Votes of Censure, Budgets and Parliamentary Committees, Public Accounts Committee, Estimates Committee, Committees on Public Undertakings, Committee on Subordinate Legislation and the Committee on Assurances. Thus, the opportunity for exercising control over administration assumes several forms, which may briefly be discussed below:

(1) President’s Speech: Every new session of Parliament opens with a speech from the President. The President’s speech broadly spells out the major policies and activities with which the executive would be preoccupied in the period immediately ahead. Normally, four days are set aside for general discussion on it. The members of Parliament have, during this period, an opportunity to criticize the entire realm of administration for its alleged acts of omission as well as commission. It is, however, well to bear in mind that the speeches are made on this occasion as well as on others with a view to swaying the public opinion outside the Parliament, not to influencing the honourable members, who rigidly follow, or are obliged to follow, party lines in utterances and voting.

(2) Budget Discussion: Since the introduction of the ‘Budget on Account’, Parliament now has greater opportunity of discussion on the budget proposals. The members of Parliament (by this we mean members of the Lok Sabha) have the following opportunities of criticizing the administration

  1. After the presentation of the budget, general discussion takes place. At this occasion the discussion relates to the budget as a whole or any question of principle involved therein.
  2. Voting on grants provides the second opportunity. Discussion at this stage is confined to each head of the Demand, and if cut motions are moved, to the specific points raised therein. The discussion is sufficiently pointed and may be focussed on specific points.
  3. Discussion on the Finance Bill provides a boundless opportunity to discuss the entire administration.

(3) Question Hour: The first hour of every parliamentary day is reserved for questions, which provide an effective form of control. On an average some thirty questions are orally asked, and answered daily. The privilege of asking questions keeps the entire administration on its toes. A question is an effective device of focussing public attention, in a striking manner, on different aspects of administration’s policies and activities. A question is generally followed by supplementary questions, which provided a sort of crossexamination of the Minister, and do often catch off his balance.

(4) ‘Zero Hour’ Discussion: ‘Zero Hour’, India’s innovation in the field of parliamentary practices, has emerged, since 1962, as a powerful tool of control over the executive, though it is not a formally prescribed device available to the Members of Parliament. It is in a way extraregular and is so called because it is invoked in the House immediately after the question hour but before the items on the order paper of the House (that is, the agenda for the day) are taken up for discussion and disposal. As the Parliament meets at 11.00 a.m. and the question hour is over at 12.00, the latter is the ‘Zero Hour’. It is at this hour that the Members of Parliament can raise, subject to the permission of the Presiding officer, matters which in their eyes are of public importance -even if not listed in the day’s order paper.

(5) Adjournment Debates: The device of adjournment motion is a tool of day-to-day control, and may be utilized for raising a discussion in the House on any specific question of urgent nature and of public importance. If allowed by the presiding officer, an immediate debate takes place on the matter raised, thus suspending the normal business of the House.

Adjournment debate is to be distinguished from the two hours’ debate which may ensue on a matter of urgent public importance. The former is characterized by voting after the debate is over: in the latter there is simply a discussion and no voting.

(6) No-confidence Motion: Provision for ‘no-confidence’ motion also called censure motion, exists in the Constitution itself. A censure motion provides an occasion when the entire policy of the Government, or a part of it, comes under fire. An adverse vote on this occasion leads to the resignation of the Government. This provision, however, remained practically a dead letter until 1962. For the first time in Indian parliamentary history, a ‘no-confidence’ motion was discussed and defeated in the Lok Sabha in its monsoon session, 1963. And its frequency has increased in the post-Nehru era.

(7) Debates on Legislation: The various readings of a bill provide opportunities to the Members of Parliament to criticize the entire policy underlying the bill. The criticism may even make the Government change its mind. The Government, for instance, withdrew the highly controversial Hindu Code Bill in 1951. Again in 1968, the Government rescinded its earlier decision to change the name of the Benaras Hindu University.

(8) Parliamentary Committees: Parliamentary committees, Public Accounts Committee, Estimates Committee, Committee on Public Undertakings, Committee on Subordinate Legislation and Committee on Assurances—are also tools of controls over administration.

(9) Audit: Parliament exercises control over public expenditure through the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who audits (and in practice, maintained till 1976, when accounts were separated from audit) all Government accounts to ensure that the money granted by Parliament has not been exceeded without a supplementary vote, and that the money expended conforms to rules. The accountability of Government to Parliament in the field of financial administration is, thus, secured through the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor- General, who has rightly been described as ‘the guide, philosopher and friend’ of the Public Accounts Committee.


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